Little is known about Axel's life prior to the zombie apocalypse, but he apparently used to be a mechanic and had been arrested and imprisoned for armed robbery. According to the story he told Carol, he robbed a store with a water pistol, and the police found him hiding at his brother's house the next day with the water pistol. He swore that it was all he had at the robbery, but the police didn't believe that anyone could be that stupid and get away with it, so they searched his brother's house and found his brother's .38, which "matched the description". Axel also said that his brother had a money problem in that he never lent him any.
While Axel was in prison, the dead began to walk and Axel found himself locked up in a cafeteria along with fellow prisoners Tomas, Andrew, Oscar and Big Tiny when rioting broke out within the facility. The group were locked up in the cafeteria for ten months before being discovered by Rick Grimes and his group of survivors. After informing the inmates of the state of the world, Rick agreed to help them clear out a cell block that they could live in separated from his group. Big Tiny would be killed by the violent Tomas and Tomas was killed after he threatened Rick, with Andrew being shot by Oscar after he intentionally drew more walkers into the prison. Axel and Oscar were the only two prisoners left and they proved that they weren't violent men like Tomas and Andrew, and so Rick allowed them into the group.
Axel is one of the more moral and kind prisoners. He is grateful to Rick and the others for letting him out of the cafeteria and accepts Rick's leadership unconditionally. During his time among Rick's group, he becomes quite friendly towards Beth Greene, though Carol scolds him for flirting since Beth is still a teenager. Axel admits that he hasn't had any contact with the opposite sex since he was imprisoned and even admitted some attraction to Carol but steered clear because he thought she was a lesbian due to her short hair. Despite this misunderstanding, Axel and Carol seem to become good friends.
In the episode "Home", Axel and Carol are talking about life before the apocalypse out in the courtyard of the prison when suddenly the prison is attacked by The Governor and his men. While talking, Axel is shot through the head mid-sentence by the Governor himself.