The Walking Dead has gone a lot of places over its 10 seasons and multiple spin-offs, but it almost jumped into some seriously nasty business long before Negan broke out the bat. Back in Season 3 of the AMC zombie series, when Rick and his motley gang of survivors holed up in that prison alongside a group of prisoners, there were plans for a serial killer of the living variety to rear his head in the group — and it would've been a corrupted version of Axel, the sweet and charming convict that looked like he dropped right out of Con Air.
This version of Axel, who was canonically convicted for robbing a store with a toy gun (a relatively harmless crime in the context of the show and his fellow inmates), was going to be a monster. Lew Temple, who played the character, recently remembered how dark things were originally going to get and which main characters were going to feel the results of his cruelty.
Temple told the Talk Dead to Me podcast all about what Axel could've been. Take a listen:
“I showed up with the idea that it was going to be serial killer and foreboding," Temple said, "and then, the day-of, got a note to switch that. ‘No, no, we’ve gotta lighten things up a little bit. We’ve been pretty dark.’” If those writing the show thought it had been dark before, their plans for Axel's murderous future were pitch black.
“There were some episodes that are written where I do take Beth out into the woods and slaughter her,” Temple explained. “We didn’t get to any of those. That was why I kept buttoned up. He was going to come undone, be totally Henry Rollins-tattooed. The whole thing about being a drug addict was all a big facade. The thing about the squirt gun and pistol is all bull****. Carol, he beats the s*** out of her. I mean, just these really dark things that the writers were talking about.”
Carol and Beth were Axel's two friends over his brief run, so the seeds were still there on-screen. Even the fashion choices from the costuming department — having Axel's collar closed — were reminders of what could've been. Thankfully, Axel won't be able to be a serial killer in the future of the long-running show...even if it's only because The Governor popped him in the dome back in the third season.
That meant that everything with the serial killer plot got scrapped "all of a sudden." According to Temple, "it’s like, ‘Oh, we painted ourselves in the corner, the Governor is showing up and he’s gotta draw blood or he’ll be impotent. He’s gotta draw first blood. And it’s looking like you’re gonna get the short straw.'” That short straw shockingly ended the life of the would-be killer and established a very real killer as the series' villain. As The Walking Dead universe continues on screens both large and small, however, there does seem to be plenty of room for a duplicitous murderer to infiltrate the ranks of the living.