Title text: Let's get dinner after we promptly destroy all the X-7 we've manufactured.
Patient Zero is the usual terminology for the first patient tested or infected with an outbreak-style infection, like in the movie Outbreak, which is not the main inspiration for this comic, except maybe the title.
This comic, however, serves to make fun of the stereotypical zombie movie in which an unlikely series of events, coupled with extreme oversight on part of the staff, leave an opening for an outbreak to begin. Often, the infected find themselves lacking any restraint or containment, and freely move about in search of humans to infect.
In the comic Ryan (drawn as Cueball) tells Laura (drawn as Megan) that the patient has been exposed to toxin X-7. The patient (a zombie version of a Cueball-like guy) can be seen through a window inside a laboratory, with Ryan trying to block the door. The patient has turned into a bloodthirsty monster that in true zombie-style calls out for brains, while walking with both arms stretched out and bits of him falling off, three typical cliches for zombie movies.
Laura then asks if the zombie has been kept in isolation, a standard medical procedure that prevents the patient from coming into contact with anyone or anything not specifically approved, and thus prevents the spread of the disease. Her question serves to point out the drastic difference in real-life procedure and zombie movies.
When told that so far the zombie has been isolated her next action is to run to her car to obtain the weapon she has there to destroy the zombie, again showing contrast against the often irrational and illogical actions of medical staff in movies, whose behaviors usually lead to their deaths and to the spread of the disease, which causes the real outbreak. Because one person (or a few people) dying from a disease is not called an outbreak.
When Laura returns she kills patient zero, before he infects any other, thus the outbreak ends in panel three five minutes after it started in panel one. And neither Laura or Ryan was infected by the splatter when she shot the zombie with a large shotgun at close range! This would of course (even realistically) have happened in a zombie movie, where often a single drop of blood in the eye would cause the disease to spread. (See for instance 28 Days Later (2002) where that exact example is taken from, and where the zombies are not previously dead people rising from their graves, just like in this comic, although there it is a disease rather than a toxin that caused the outbreak).
The comic ends with a little "mock the audience" joke as romantic comedies stereo-typically have a very different audience from zombie horror movies. The two characters had never been introduced before, their names are first given in the last panel. Having such an intense and life threatening expericen often causes people to fall in love. But for a zombie/disaster movie this is supposed to happen just before the end titles, so you have all the fun first, and can go home on the happy ending. Since the "fun" part only lasted for five minutes the rest of the movie will now describe Ryan and Laura's romantic relationship after this comic.
As a result, the director(s) of this movie are deliberately showing the wrong kind of film to the audience attracted by the title or teaser. This would be disastrous for a movie in real life given that audiences do not take kindly to such antics and are likely to pour hate about it online, dissuading others from going, and alienating both those audiences who enjoy romantic comedies and those who enjoy zombie films, leaving just a niche occupied by the people who enjoy both.
The title-text is included as another example of the logical real-life actions versus the illogical movie ones, as any dangerous substance in a real lab would be disposed of, preventing further harm. In zombie movies, another major trope is the medical staff thinking that they are safe after they eliminate the first zombie, only to find the remaining chemicals have been used to make more. But before Ryan and Laura have had dinner, they promptly go back and destroys both the X-7 toxin and the last hope of the zombie fans seeing the movie of any further action...
Zombies are a recurring theme in xkcd. Though zombies are often depicted as being raised from the death they are as mentioned often created (in films) through disease or toxins as is the case here. Apart from the three typical features of zombies mentioned, the zombie in this comic is also called zombie in the official transcript on xkcd.
- [Cueball and Megan, stand outside a door into a laboratory (as it says on the door). Cueball is leaning back against the door. A Cueball-like zombie which is clearly falling apart, walking with it's hands stretched out in front of it is visible through a window into the laboratory. At the top of the panel there is a frame around a yellow area with narration, which goes over the top of this panels frame.]
- Narrator: The outbreak started with Patient Zero...
- Cueball: He was exposed to toxin X-7— now he's a bloodthirsty monster!
- Megan: Has he been in isolation?
- Zombie: Braaains!
- Door: LAB
- [Cueball turns towards the door pushing on it partly blocking the doors label. A noise indicates the zombie banging on the door from inside. Megan runs right her head and hand already partly outside the frame.]
- Cueball: Yes, but I can't hold this door for long!
- Megan: Hang on, I've got a gun in my truck.
- Zombie hitting door: Wham
- Door: LA
- [In this frame-less panel Cueball opens the door, leaning back with a hand in front of his face, as Megan shoots with her shotgun through the open door at the zombie inside.]
- Shotgun: Blam
- Door: LAB
- [Cueball and Megan , now revealed to be called Ryan and Laura, stand together away from the laboratory door. Megan still holds shotgun down. At the top and bottom of the panel there is two more frames around a yellow areas with narration, which goes over the top and bottom of this panels frame.]
- Narrator: And ended with Patient Zero five minutes later.
- Ryan: So, I never got your name. I'm Ryan.
- Laura: Laura.
- Narrator: The remaining 90 minutes of the movie will be a romantic comedy.
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