Much of this is total conjecture, but I (foolishly) like these types of TV plot lines to make sense, so here's what I've come up with. In terms of the pre-story, the only clues we have are 194 days (6 months) since "Wildfire was declared" and 63 days since it abruptly went global. Morgan stated that the gas lines had been down for "about a month". If the virus started abroad (like SARS or H1N1), Wildfire could have been the announcement of the outbreak or epidemic abroad, and "abruptly going global" could mean it's arrival in the U.S. We've seen the events leading up to Rick's shooting and the flashback when Shane tells Lori he's been shot, and in neither case was there any mention of a crisis of this nature. So we can perhaps assume that the apocalypse had either not yet started, or was at it's very early stages in the U.S. - perhaps something you see reports of on TV ("a strange virus" or "mysterious killings"), but from which you feel isolated or protected in your small town.
Going with this, If Rick was shot at the very beginning of the ZA, then roughly two months would have transpired during which he was in a coma. Now, I'm not a medical professional, but I would think three days would be the absolute maximum he could live in his condition with no IV or nutrition, and even that seems generous, especially considering that the ventilation system would probably have failed, so he's in a roasting hot room with no liquids. The dried flowers could have been there for weeks and ignored by the staff in the growing chaos, so that doesn't give us much to go on. Given all this, I would propose a timeline of:
Minus 194 days/6 months: Wildfire declared - an outbreak of a new virus or plague is declared, probably abroad somewhere. Scientists start researching its cause and possible treatments. Quarantines are set up for people from infected areas in an attempt to halt the spread. The U.S. is not directly affected at this point, but there are reports in the U.S. media, though the zombie/undead angle is kept out of the public eye.
Minus 63 days/2 months: Abrupt spread of the plague. The first cases are found in the U.S. and many other countries and it spreads rapidly through the population, especially in the cities. Hot zones form with high concentrations of victims. There is much misinformation about what is happening. As the weeks go on, people in the cities start panicking and the first cases appear in smaller/remote towns. By the end of the month supply lines are disrupted and stores are emptied of goods as people stockpile. Hospitals are barraged with the sick and the dead; bodies start piling up. Police and emergency services start to become overwhelmed. By month's end it's clear that things are falling apart.
Minus 30 days/1 month: States of emergency are declared, National Guard and military are deployed. FEMA and military set up refugee centers and triage units. Military cordons are set up to try and contain the outbreak. The plague is now in almost every population center. Government services and utilities break down - no gas, electricity, etc. Communications start to falter. There is genuine panic; stores are looted and there is chaos in violence in the streets. Highways are deluged with cars as people flee and try to escape; refugee centers are overcrowded and then overrun. The Z's seem to be everywhere. Society as we know it is pretty much over.
Minus 3 days: Shane makes a last-ditch attempt to rescue Rick. The hospital is abandoned. Shane, Lori and Carl try to reach the refugee center; Atlanta is napalmed and they establish the camp.
In terms of the show from Episode 1 forward, I agree with Lillywhite, it's about two weeks since Rick woke up. I've referred to the IMDB episode synopses and came up with this (major events only are noted).
DAY ONE: EP1 Rick wakes up, leaves the hospital, meets Bicycle Girl and then Morgan and Duane, and spends the night there. Oh, and zombies. Everywhere.
DAY TWO: Rick, Morgan and Duane go to the police station. Rick departs for Atlanta. Arrives in Atlanta and encounters the zombie horde, taking refuge in the tank. EP2 he escapes the tank with Glenn's help, meets the scouting group from Camp Dinner Bell, overcomes Merle, covers himself in guts, rescues the group from the department store. EP3 Rick arrives at the camp, reuniting with his family. Night falls as they sit around the campfire catching up (mostly sidestepping the main topic of the day, how the zombies took over and civilization has ended). That, my friends, is one epic mo-fo of a day.
DAY THREE: In EP3 after a day at the camp they return to Atlanta to get Merle and the weapons by the tank, but discover Merle is gone; in EP4, still on the roof, they collect Merle's hand, encounter the Vatos, and return to camp at night to find the zombies having a dinner party.
DAY FOUR: EP5 that morning Amy reanimates; they bury the dead campers. Jim has been bitten and the fever starts. Rick and Shane go hunting for zombies and argue over CDC vs. Fort Benning. Dale sees Shane aim his rifle at Rick. That night Shane announces they will leave for the CDC in the morning.
DAY FIVE: In the morning the group departs for the CDC (bye-bye, Morales, RIP Jim), reaching it at dusk. In EP6, season finale, they submit to blood tests, then settle in at the CDC and overnight there.
DAY SIX: Waking up, they discover that all is not well at the CDC. They narrowly escape the CDC implosion (RIP Jacqui) and drive off into the sunset.UPDATE
- This post got too long when I added additional episodes, so I'm breaking S2 out into a separate post down-thread
Clearly I've spent WAY too much time thinking about this, and the timeline and continuity on the show can be very frustrating to follow. Any corrections or alternate theories to the above are most welcome. (ETA paragraph spacing, ETA2 to correct timeline, ETA3 for continued S2 post).
Edited by svart katt, Feb 28, 2012 @ 3:47 PM.