Mad Axe was a member of the Night’s Watch. He is famous for murdering his fellow brothers at the Nightfort. According to the story, he took his boots off and prowled the halls of the Nightfort silently at night and murdered his brothers.
In the prologue there is a curious scene with Will and Waymar. Will stops on an impressive battle axe, Waymar orders him to move on, then Waymar is killed and then wighted. Shortly after the wighted unSer Waymar then kills Will. Will would then conceivably come back to life atop the axe, and that would be how he would claim it.
The only other special axes I can think of is the Valyrian steel axe of House Celtigar and Dagmer Cleftjaw of the Iron Islands. But none of them are brothers of the Night’s Watch to fit Mad-Axe’s profile. There is no one else I can think of now that fits Mad-Axe’s profile.
GRRM puts significant emphasis into an axe that nobody uses in the prologue. Why? Because I think this cruel piece of iron will become quite cruel in the next book.
“Did you see any weapons?”“Some swords, a few bows. One man had an axe. Heavy-looking, double-bladed, a cruel piece of iron. It was on the ground beside him, right by his hand.”
A cruel piece of iron. Iron is not cruel, only once you butcher your brothers does it become cruel.
Will’s voice abandoned him. He groped for words that did not come. It was not possible. His eyes swept back and forth over the abandoned campsite, stopped on the axe. A huge double-bladed battle-axe, still lying where he had seen it last, untouched. A valuable weapon …“On your feet, Will,” Ser Waymar commanded. “There’s no one here. I won’t have you hiding under a bush.”
A valuable weapon indeed Will. Your voice abandoned you but your inner voice just gave us a big clue.
With Will being the one to actually step on it, notice it, mention it twice, including when even his own voice fails him. I would guess it is Will that is Mad Axe. The biggest tell of all is that Will “stop”ed on the axe that would imply his boot is on it and Mad Axe took his boots off to sneak up on his former brothers. Maybe that is a hint about him taking his boot off the axe to pick it up.
There is steel as cruel as one taken from a fallen foe. Now, rise foe, and become my brother once more.
It is said that Mad Axe had a red beard. The Royce’s I have noticed all either black whiskers or are grey. Not red, Will’s hair color is not mentioned, again giving the point to team unWill for being Mad-Axe. Unless having a red beard is a metaphor for all the blood on it, then all bets are off.
Update: commenter “Onion King Beyond The Wall” seals the deal for unWill being Mad-Axe with this find:
Will had been a hunter before he joined the Night’s Watch. Well, a poacher in truth. Mallister freeriders had caught him red-handed in the Mallisters’ own woods, skinning one of the Mallisters’ own bucks, and it had been a choice of putting on the black or losing a hand. No one could move through the woods as silent as Will, and it had not taken the black brothers long to discover his talent.
Mad Axe may have three heads. There are two other contenders for the prophesy, Ser Illifer and Kurleket.
“Oh, wicked little imp,” Marillion said, shocked.
Kurleket drew his dirk, a vicious piece of black iron. “At your word, m’lady, I’ll toss his lying tongue at your feet.” His pig eyes were wet with excitement at the prospect.
-A Game of Thrones – Tyrion IV
“A true knight is the only shield a maiden needs,” declared Ser Creighton stoutly.
Ser Illifer paid him no mind. “A barefoot man looks for a boot, a chilly man a cloak. But who would cloak themselves in shame? Lord Lucas bore that bat, the Pander, and Manfryd o’ the Black Hood, his son. Why wear such arms, I ask myself, unless your own sin is fouler still . . . and fresher.”
He unsheathed his dagger, an ugly piece of cheap iron. “A woman freakish big and freakish strong who hides her own true colors. Creigh, behold the Maid o’ Tarth, who opened Renly’s royal throat for him.”
-A Feast for Crows – Brienne I
It would be fitting for unWill the Nights Watch brother in the prologue, to lead the first wave of attacks on the Night’s Watch.
Brace yourself. A cruel piece of iron is coming.
Brains will be chopped.