If the serial killer from Prisoners created an amusement park, it would look like the line for Hall H at San Diego Comic-Con.

At 10:30PM on Thursday, July 9 — the night before a day of panels on The Walking DeadGame of Thrones, and Star Wars — the Hall H line was almost a mile and a half long; 1.43 miles to be exact, according to my Nike+ running and GPS app. Technically speaking, the lines (plural) were 1.43 miles; there were three of them spread out across the San Diego marina. Walking the entire thing took me nearly half an hour.

The trek started at one end of the convention center, snaked down the side, across the street past the Hilton Bayfront, around an outdoor carnival, and down towards the waterfront. The next section was on a near by island, on a basketball court next to a Joe’s Crab Shack. After twisting around the island, the line stopped again, then picked up on the waterfront for another three quarters of a mile. The actual end of the line was well past the convention center in the nearby Seaport Village, a stone’s throw from a spot named Dead Man’s Point, an appropriate moniker for any con-goer who actually believed they were going to get into a room that holds 6500 people after a line that stretched well over 2 kilometers.

Wandering this deranged menagerie was like a set visit to the worst imaginable sequel to The Human Centipede. According to the man with the job of maintaining the end of the line — and yes that is someone’s job — 1.43 miles wasn’t even the line’s peak. When I found the line keeper, a polite gentlemen who remained upbeat despite the fact that he’d been holding a sign for 12 straight hours in the San Diego sun, he claimed that he was standing about 200 yards closer to Hall H than he had at the queue’s absolute worst a short while before. The line is long, he said, but it does move.

Hall H line
The front of the 1.43 mile line for Hall H.

That would be news to the man at the front of the line’s third and final segment. When I passed him a few minutes earlier, he’d claimed he’d been waiting in the exact same spot since 5PM; he’d been there for five hours and made zero progress. (Likely folks behind him had given up and left.) This wasn’t the only miscommunication or confusion I’d find. Generally, no one knew where their part of the line began or ended, or when it would start moving; not even the security guards in charge of maintaining order. At the island portion of the line a new line suddenly sprouted up just before my arrival, and folks who’d been waiting for the better part of the day were getting nervous and antsy about the newcomers. Several people marched over and loudly questioned where these people had come from and whether they had a right to be there. A geek revolt seemed possible.

Otherwise, though, the mood seemed generally upbeat and mellow throughout the rest of the 2.3 km of fans. There were card games, intense discussions of Game of Thrones, and even a guy breakdancing on his sleeping bag (poorly). By and large, people were fully prepared, mentally and physically, to wait all night — with air mattresses, camping chairs, and large stacks of reading material, which they read by the light of the hydrant-sized lamps that lined the waterfront.

Hall H line
A portion of the Hall H line in front of a “No Parking” sign.

When you ask people in the Hall H line why they’re waiting, they’ll say they want to see the Star Wars panel or they’re “a huge Game of Thrones fan.” And those panels are sure to be star-studded and full of surprises. (Thursday, Bill Murray dropped by unannounced to sing “Rock the Casbah” to promote his upcoming movie, Rock the Kasbah.) But these people weren’t sleeping outside overnight to be the first fans in the world to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, or the season six premiere of Game of Thrones. At best, they’d get some clips, maybe an exclusive trailer or two, and possibly announcements of new actors or directors. All of the news they waited 24 hours to hear would be available online within seconds; much of the video content would be as well.

In reality, though, the Comic-Con throngs aren’t waiting in line to see The Hunger Games or Batman v Superman or any franchise, really. They’re waiting in line for Hall H to wait in line for Hall H. More than anything, it’s a geek badge of courage; a way to prove your nerd bonafides in an age when what used to be niche culture has moved front and center into the mainstream. With all the news coming out of Comic-Con right at your fingertips (and with feeds available on YouTube, Periscope, and Instagram), you have to be a little (or a lot) obsessed to sleep outside for the chance to have a seat in the back of Hall H. That’s what these fans are really chasing; the ability to say “I’m a real fan.”

The Internet provides the information, but not the sense of community that comes with 6500 nerds squeeing in unison. So shine on you crazy dorks. If you’re having a good time, more power to you. But you better hurry; I see the line for Saturday starting already.

More From ScreenCrush