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This article presents the full, detailed rules and Frequently Asked Questions that have been built up painstakingly over months by the Complete Monster cleanup topic and the Complete Monster proposal topic in the forums. We present this as a distinct article in the Administrivia namespace to keep the main article free of messy details that would distract readers.

What is a Complete Monster?

A Complete Monster is the most awful villain in a story, with no positive attributes (including redemption or motives) whatsoever. This character must possess all of the following traits. Read further on for additional detail.

  • They must be an individual: groups cannot collectively qualify, even if individual members do.
  • They must commit, or attempt to commit, heinous actions, both objectively and by the standards of the setting.
  • Their actions must be visible to the audience, either directly or via their results.
  • They must be as heinous as they could be given their resources.
  • They must be exceptional: that is, they must stand out compared to other characters in the work and/or genre.
  • They must be played seriously: their crimes and threat must not be played for comedy.
  • They must have no altruistic motives for their actions.
  • They must express no remorse or regret for their actions. They must not seek redemption, and they must not demonstrate love, caring, or compassion.
  • They must possess agency: that is, they are capable of exercising moral choice.
  • They must not have a backstory or moral justification that the audience sympathizes with sufficiently to excuse their actions.
  • They must have defined motives that allow the audience to understand why they are acting as they do.

Can you explain each of these in more detail?

Sure. Expand each folder to learn more.

    open/close all folders 

Groups lack moral agency, as it's always possible for them to shift blame among each other, claim they were victims to a mob mentality, or otherwise evade full moral responsibility. Further, this trope is about the worst possible villain, and if members of a group are all roughly equal in heinousness, none of them stands out enough.

Note that consensus has occasionally permitted examples of small groups, as long as each character is distinctly characterized and plays a role in their most heinous crimes. However, these exceptions are fairly rare.

Heinousness is judged in both an absolute and relative sense. Absolute means, "Would these actions be unusually horrible if committed in real life or a setting-appropriate equivalent?" Relative means, "Would these actions be considered unusually horrible when judged against the standards established by its own continuity and/or similar works in the same genre and setting?" While the bar for heinousness can vary, it's usually best to start with the most serious crimes, like murder and rape.

One reason we adopt this principle is that some people will offer candidates from works intended for children with the justification that, "Kids consider these sorts of things heinous." The thing is that what we consider heinous changes over time, as do people themselves. Someone could be an awful bully in elementary school but grow out of it, and what was once traumatizing be accepted and/or forgiven. Plus, there's a certain absurdity in the implicit comparison of a character from, say, My Little Pony with a character from Saw. Kicking kids' balls over fences and murdering them are pretty far apart.

Similarly, we may get candidates from extraordinarily violent and dark genres, like horror, with the explanation that, obviously, mass murder, torture, and rape are terrible crimes and the villains rarely seek or are capable of forgiveness. The problem here is multifold. First, horror killers are seldom given any kind of meaningful backstory or motives (see the "Defined Motives" folder below). Second, when an entire genre is defined by making villains as sadistic, psychopathic, and brutal as possible, it becomes very difficult for any one to clearly stand, head and shoulders, over others (see the "Exceptionalism" folder). Third, audiences go to horror films with the expectation that they will be shocked by brutal violence, so there's nothing extraordinary about it.

"Captain Catastrophe blew up twenty planets and ordered their entire population enslaved and raped. Why doesn't he qualify?" Ask yourself this: do these actions have any impact on the story that we, the audience, get to see? Are they related as backstory, without any direct evidence presented — not even a weeping, scarred survivor? Does the villain do anything in the work itself that's heinous enough to make us believe that they might have committed such crimes? If not, then there's no meat there. It's Offscreen Villainy, and we can't count it.

That said, if we see some of their crimes in the work, and they are established as a pattern (e.g., a Serial Killer), then we can count their other crimes against them even if we don't directly witness them.

There's also a problem for works with Negative Continuity, because there are rarely any enduring effects of any villainous actions. If Mistress Misery burned down an orphanage last episode, but it's back in the next without explanation, is it really something that can be said to have had meaningful consequences?

For a villain to truly be a Complete Monster, they have to be as heinous as they can be with their resources. Some villains only have themselves and their weapon; others have entire corporations or armies; still others have entire planets at their beck and call. No matter what tier of villain they are, they have to be as bad as they can be given what they have access to; if some street-level Serial Killer manages to cause more destruction than the Corrupt Corporate Executive of a large company, then the latter likely isn't heinous enough.

To be clear, resources are not any kind of "get out of jail free card"; i.e., just because someone doesn't have a lot of resources doesn't mean that they don't have to meet the heinous standard of the work. If a work's standard is high enough, a lower-tier villain will still need a particularly cruel niche to stand out from the crowd regardless of how few their resources are.

If there are a bunch of characters in the story all committing terrible acts, and none of them stand out above the others by going that extra mile, then none of them can be a Complete Monster. There are no prizes for a tie. See Heinousness, above, for how this applies to genres like horror.

    Played Seriously 
"Dicklord Assrapist McNazi kills a hero by flushing them down a giant toilet, destroys an entire alternate universe to power his car battery, eats babies for breakfast, and tries to poison the world populace with deadly farts- why doesn't he qualify?" Ask yourself this- does this really sound like the kind of character who is taken seriously as a threat? A proper Complete Monster has to be taken seriously by the narrative. If the villain regularly commits horrible crimes, but is treated as no worse than a standard Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist, then they are not being treated as a Complete Monster by the story. And even if the villain does do realistically dark things, if they are portrayed as a joke, then it also renders the audience unable to take them seriously as a villain. That is not to say that a Laughably Evil character cannot qualify- they can, but they must still be treated by the story as a legitimate threat and their crimes must be played for horror.

    Selfish motives 

A true Complete Monster has no possible altruistic motives for their actions; the only thing that motivates them is their own selfish desires, whether that be for power, money, fame, or anything else. Notably, this disqualifies any Well-Intentioned Extremist right off the bat, as no matter how bad of an "Extremist" they are, it cannot combat the fact that they are "Well-Intentioned". Now, if a character's supposed altruistic motives are later shown to ultimately be a facade for their own desires, then they're still fair game, but if there is any indication that they are working for anything more than a purely selfish reason, they cannot be a Compete Monster.

    No Remorse or Regret, No Loved Ones 
This one is fairly obvious. The "Complete" part of this trope's title allows no slack for characters that commit heinous acts, but express remorse or regret for them. Similarly, if Even Evil Has Loved Ones, then it disqualifies them from the trope. The only exception is when the "love" is clearly established as possessive or manipulative: that is, the villain is only showing regard for another person to satisfy their own ego, and not because they genuinely are concerned about the happiness or well-being of the supposedly "loved" one.

It doesn't matter if the character can or would be forgiven: if they show compassion, love, or remorse, they can't be this trope. This is another reason why we like to see a character's story arc completed, since even the worst villains will sometimes express regret in their Final Speech.

This is one of our more hotly debated topics, but the basic idea is that a character must be in control of their own actions, aware that they are doing wrong, and capable of choosing to act differently in order to be a Complete Monster. Let's take a few examples to show what we mean.

  • An animal acts on instinct and learned behavior. No matter how vicious it may be, it's not truly responsible in a moral sense for what it does.
  • Children, for the most part, lack developed moral judgment, so they can't be held fully responsible for their actions. Obviously, there are some notable exceptions.
  • Someone who is under the effects of Mind Control, Brainwashing, or who was programmed from birth is also not responsible for their actions, unless we learn later that it was More than Mind Control and they merely used it as an excuse to do what they'd wanted all along. The person who controlled them, however...
  • Someone with a mental illness that impacts their ability to discern right from wrong cannot be held liable for their actions. A villain who only commits their crimes because of an illness they can't control isn't truly a "monster". On the other hand, if they're faking it, that's fair game.
  • Elemental forces of evil, like devils and demons, may be compelled by their nature to act as they do, and thus lack the capacity to choose a different path. This can vary by work, of course.
  • Robots and other automata, such as The Undead, are essentially pre-programmed, and so are not making choices. Robots or undead that are intelligent/free-willed enough to exercise choice may qualify, though.

In a nutshell: is the character aware of the morality of their actions, are they in control of their own behavior, and could they choose to act other than they do?

    No Sympathetic Backstory 
Even if Doctor Disaster is diabolical now, did she have a tragic childhood, rife with abuse? Was the Serial Killer a nice enough guy at one point until some horrible event made him snap? Did a noble prince try to defend his people from a terrible threat, only to slide off the slippery slope and become He Who Fights Monsters? If yes, then they may have a Freudian Excuse that allows the audience to sympathize with them, and thereby disqualifies them from this trope.

Of course, the key factor is how the narrative plays it. Sometimes, a character expresses a sad backstory that is called out by characters or the narrative as not justifying their actions. Other times, they live in a Crapsack World where everyone goes through that kind of trauma and they're the only one who became a monster from it. In those kinds of cases where the narrative opens the possibility that their backstory is not responsible for their monstrosity, they are likely worth a discussion.

    Defined Character 
What separates the Complete Monster from the Generic Doomsday Villain? Both do awful things, and both are terrible threats in their respective stories, but in the case of the Generic Doomsday Villain, we have no real idea who they are. They're a blank slate with no personality to speak of. They have no backstory, no motive, no characterization, not even dialogue; you could substitute them for an inanimate object and they'd have the same impact. What sets apart a Complete Monster from an average villain is that, even if the characterization is minimal, they do have characterization, giving the audience a reason to hate them in particular among the horde of villains.

Procedures for Nominating a Complete Monster

Okay, so now I understand what makes a candidate qualify, so how do I propose one? Step up, troper, and listen.

  • How does the process work?: Someone brings up a possible candidate and the work in which they appear, describing any relevant details needed to judge whether they fit the trope. This often (but not necessarily) takes the form of an "effort post", a lengthy post describing the four important aspects of the nomination: the setting, to establish the general standard of heinousness; the character, to list what they do in the story; the motivation, so we can see why they do what they do and whether they have any redeeming traits; and a conclusion that summarizes the case for or against their inclusion.
    The character is then discussed in terms of their merits and flaws and how they relate to the trope. After discussion, participants may give their vote. If, after discussion settles, a candidate has reached a majority of five more "yays" than "nays," they are approved.

  • So, how do I suggest an example, either to be removed or to be added?: Just post the candidate and where they are from, along with your arguments for or against their inclusion. If few people have responded, bring it up again politely after a couple of days. We're busy folks; we sometimes miss things.

  • Dude, we gotta add this example from last night's episode of...: Okay, we will automatically table all discussion on a character from an ongoing series. For one, it's very easy to get caught up in the excitement of something that was just enjoyed. For another, we don't know what the writers are going to do until everything is over. We don't want to put up an example just to have to take it down when the example turns out to be much less monstrous than it first appeared.

  • What about this film/book/game/show that was just released? Can I add its villain pretty please?: Hold your horses. Not everyone will have had the chance to see it yet. Further, people who do plan to see it will be very annoyed with you for posting spoilers. Allow two weeks past a work's official release date for people to catch up before proposing an example.

  • Is there a calendar listing what days I can talk about an upcoming film/show/game/book's villain(s), in case I forget?: Yes, there is. The calendar in question is also where users can volunteer to open a discussion on said villain two weeks after said film or movie, etc., airs. The calendar can be found here, listed as Complete Monster Discussion Dates.

  • There's this film/book/game/show coming up and I think its villain will qualify.: That's nice, but we don't speculate about who might be a Complete Monster before the work is even out. No, not even if you have Super Sekrit advance information. Also, see above about spoiling works that are just released.

  • My example/edit has been approved, but the example subpage is locked! How do I get it added?: The moderators do not add examples to locked example subpages in the Monster/ namespace directly. Rather, you need to do the edit to a sandbox page that follows the format Sandbox.Monster<Name of the example subpage> (e.g for Monster.Disney it's Sandbox.Monster Disney) and ask in the locked pages edit requests thread for the content to be swapped in on a Monday.

Additional Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is this trope No Real Life Examples, Please!?: Because as the strongest Evil Trope, it's also the most controversial. Calling a real person evil is just asking for trouble, and there is no such thing as a 100% evil person or thing in real life. Not even Hitler.

  • What tropes do not go in Complete Monster?: You Monster! is a statement of an individual character's standards, not the story's. Nightmare Fuel and The Scrappy are about "scary" and "disliked", not "heinous". Moral Event Horizon indicates when a character commits an action so heinous that they can never seek redemption, but it does not mean the character is totally evil.

  • But what if Word of God declares the character a Complete Monster?: That is insufficient. While the author may have intended the character to qualify, this does not mean that they presented the character as a Complete Monster successfully.

  • Then what good are statements in-canon or by the creator about their Complete Monster status?: Statements such as these are suggestions that we may have a Complete Monster candidate on our hands, but they cannot be offered as proof. We essentially take them as nominations, but we let their deeds speak for themselves.

  • What do audience reactions mean for this trope? What if the character is also listed as The Woobie or The Scrappy or has Narm or some other Audience Reaction listed?: They don't mean much. The trope concerns itself only with in-story portrayal, and audience responses at variance with portrayal do happen rather frequently. An example which gets compassion or laughter or other normally incompatible audience responses will require extra scrutiny, though.

  • Can a Laughably Evil villain be a Complete Monster? Yes, as long as their actions are taken seriously in the story. Take The Joker: He manages to be funny and horrifying at the same time, sometimes in the same scene; see the mob meeting and "magic trick" for an example.

  • How about Character Development?: A Complete Monster is something that a character can grow into given the right writing. It's possible for someone who was previously a Harmless Villain to become a legitimate threat and be taken seriously; it's also possible for someone with good intentions or a loved one to shed those qualities over time (bonus points if the CM kills said loved one themself). Conversely, it's possible for someone who seems like a textbook CM to gain redeeming qualities later on, or for a backstory exploration to reveal a Pet the Dog moment that never gets subverted, and thus for the character to be disqualified. In essence, we take the character as they are at the end of their run — it's possible for a character who once had loved ones or good intentions to qualify as long as any good qualities are subverted by the end.

  • Do they have to succeed at what they try to do in order to count?: No, success is not a component of Complete Monster. After all, heroes succeed in fiction more often than not. What they consciously attempt to do is what matters.

  • What if they do something that they didn't intend?: Generally, this doesn't count. What was done by accident is not enough. However, if the character finds out what they did by accident and is shown to be pleased at what happened, they may still qualify for that action.

  • Can there be more than one Complete Monster per work?: Yes. However, each candidate must stand out in terms of kind or degree of villainy. A CM is always remarkable in some way, and second place doesn't count if both characters are in the same race.

  • What about characters with different levels of resources?: As long as they are as bad as they can be with what they have, they can count. This allows the likes of Darkseid and Vandal Savage to qualify, while also allowing for the likes of Black Manta and Dr. Psycho.

  • This "heinous standard" thing sounds kinda complicated. How does it work for anything larger than a single work?: This is where things can get complex. We try to be as consistent as possible, but there's simply no one-size-fits-all solution to this kind of issue. We will try our best to explain the different possibilities here, but please understand that this is not without exceptions or flexibility:
    • What about big franchises?: For large franchises like Star Wars or The DCU, it depends on how connected the various works are. For comic franchises, while the entire franchise has a baseline standard, we generally consider each character/comic to have its own standard; for example, Superman primarily deals with aliens, Batman deals with human supervillains, and Green Arrow deals with street-level threats, and while the villains would have to stand out within those series', we don't directly compare them to each other. By contrast, something like Star Wars is far more interconnected and thus we directly hold villains against each other; for instance, Grand Moff Tarkin, as the most heinous recurring Imperial Officer, sets the standard for all Imperial officers to match no matter where they are in the franchise. It's a case-by-case basis, but the core issue is how interconnected the various works within the franchise are.
    • What about franchises with different continuities?: In this case, we judge the continuity by itself without comparing them against each other. Returning to Star Wars, for example, the canon timeline and the Legends timeline are treated completely separately, meaning it's possible for someone to be heinous enough in one but not the other.
    • What about anthologies?: In general, anthologies tend to be treated as a single work regardless of if the pieces within are meant to be connected to each other, but from there, things can get flexible depending on the number of authors and how interconnected the works within are — the more authors/the less interconnected, the less strict we tend to be on the standard. This same basic idea also applies to mythologies and similar works — the scrutiny level depends on how connected the works are, but in general, they are all treated as a single work.
    • What if things are meant to be connected, but there's a Continuity Snarl?: We hate to say it, but this is yet another layer that might change things. If a work is declared by Word of God to be canon but there's no way to reconcile it with the canon, then we're willing to take it as its own standard (for example, all the seasons of American Horror Story are meant to be canon, but several major details between seasons are incompatible, such as Los Angeles being destroyed twice in two different seasons; therefore, we don't apply the heinous standard as strictly to the show as a whole). However, this is a very particular situation and only rarely ever comes up, so this does not mean that every minor deviation from canon turns it into its own work.
    • Is there any way to summarize this?: Yes; it varies from work to work, but the scrutiny we apply to the standard is based on how connected the work is to its other parts. If the works are disconnected, then we tend to take them on their own, but if it's very connected, then we compare them directly to each other. We understand that this is complicated, but we're always willing to answer questions and give our thoughts on the situation if you need any help!

  • Okay, so the thread voted to keep a particular example off of the Complete Monster pages. Can it still go on the work pages?: No. This is against wiki policy for any trope - it either belongs on all appropriate pages, or it belongs on none of them.

  • Sheesh, the policy is kind of draconian. What if the example is put up with an acknowledgement that it's only arguably an example?: No. Examples Are Not Arguable is also wiki policy on every page, not just this one.

  • Alright, point made. What about an Alternate Character Interpretation that isn't explicitly refuted in the work itself?: No. The arguments for inclusion do not involve possibilities. We are only judging based on what's in-canon.

  • In-canon? So what about a version of the character in an Alternate Continuity?: If the character qualifies in one particular continuity, then they will be included, but the write-up will specify which continuity or continuities that they qualify in. Similarly, they only get listed for Complete Monster on the trope page for the continuity in which they act as one.

  • In that case, how do you handle Depending on the Writer?: We cite under which writers the character is a Complete Monster, similar to the above - and we make sure to note when Retcon rears its ugly head in such cases (or not, in a couple rare cases like The Joker).

  • What about when the movie version is more evil than the book version of the same character?: We treat the movie-verse as a very-close-but-subtly-different Alternate Universe. As such, if a character only qualifies for one particular adaptation, they will be listed on the appropriate page only for said adaptation.

  • Then what about Historical Domain Characters? Fictional portrayals of real people can qualify as long as they meet every other criterion, but it has to be made clear that we're troping the fictional portrayal, regardless of whether it's a Historical Villain Upgrade or Truth in Television.

  • So, just who decides which characters are put on the page?: Well, any troper that participates in the cleanup effort. Feel free to join, if it interests you.

  • Can a villain from a Sugar Bowl setting qualify? In theory, yes, but candidates from such works generally aren't treated with the requisite gravity. While there are multiple cases of Vile Villain, Saccharine Show keepers, even Sugar Bowl villains who might theoretically qualify have a pronounced tendency to be handicapped by the very nature of the work. Many such villains have the negative consequences of their actions described in such vague, watered-down terms that it's hard to consider them truly heinous, while others run into the same issue by virtue of the fact that the harm they inflict on others isn't serious enough. No matter how nasty or malevolent a villain may be, they're probably not going to qualify if the worst they do is cover the world in darkness or make people unable to love. Unless it's explicitly stated that a Sugar Bowl villain's actions will cause fatalities or shown that they have already done so, odds are they're going to be a very hard sell.

  • May I nominate characters from my own work?: In a word, no. You're biased. Get someone to read your work and let them propose the candidate if they feel it's appropriate.

  • I don't want to be redundant - how can I tell if my example was already discussed?: Search for your example's name with "complete monster" in the "Google Site Search" field. If the example was already discussed, it'll be in the first page or two.

  • I see that a character has been approved, but I don't think they count. What should I do?: We respect that you may have an issue with any approved character - after all, this is a YMMV trope. However, just as there is a process for approving a character, there is a process for removing one as well.
    • First, you should use the search function and try to find the original discussion to see if the issue was raised already. We want to respect any initial discussions as much as possible, meaning that if an issue was properly raised, discussed, and deemed to not be mitigating, it should be considered "resolved" and thus not brought up to the thread; this is a quick way for a character to earn a spot on the "Resolved Items" list, which can eventually escalate to mod intervention.
    • However, if you either can't find any discussion or the particular issue was not discussed, all you need to do is bring up your issue to the thread - you don't even have to necessarily advocate for a cut, just raise the issue and see what people think. At this point, a discussion will ensue, and if it gets far enough, the character will be put to a "keep" or "cut" vote. Again, we want to respect the initial discussion, so when tallying these votes, any and all discussions on the character must be tallied as much as possible; for example, if Troper X voted "yes" in the original discussion but doesn't contribute to the second, they are considered a "keep" vote, but if Troper Y originally voted "yes" but later votes "cut", they are considered a "cut" vote.
    • When all of the votes across every discussion are tallied, if the yes/keep votes outnumber the no/cut votes by at least five, the character remains on the list. If the number of yes/keep votes is any lower, then the character is officially considered cut by the thread; they will thus be removed from both the Complete Monster subpage as well as the work's YMMV page.

  • Would you follow this link to see what I'm talking about?: Only under very specific, limited circumstances. You may use a weblink to bolster your case, or to illustrate a particular scene under discussion. You may not use one instead of arguing your case yourself. You may not use one instead of a full proposal, or instead of a full write-up of an approved character. For one, Weblinks Are Not Examples — using a link in place of explaining how a trope applies is against wiki policy. For another, the point of this thread is to craft the best entries possible for the trope pages. This means writing a concise and insightful entry that fully describes the character in question. Relying on links to others does not provide insight - it just passes the buck.

  • What about [other site] that insists this character is a CM?: We don't care what other sites think. We judge this trope by our own criteria. Repeatedly attempting to bring up other sites will earn a suspension.

  • Why even bother with all of this? Why not just Cut List the trope?: We get this way more often than we like. Several reasons.

    1. This is one of the wiki's top attractions outside of the site. We do like keeping all those inbound links.
    2. It's a legitimate trope, and one of the oldest ones out there to boot.
    3. There are plenty of people who like working on projects like this.
    4. This is doing much better than it used to be. Seriously.

It might be taking time, but it is getting better. We appreciate all the help anyone can give on the effort.

Resolved Items

Please do not bring up characters that have already been discussed. It wastes our time. Any discussion that has been concluded is permanently shelved unless:

  • A new work in the same continuity is released featuring said character (alternate continuities don't count as they are treated as separate characters. This also means that if the discussion on Character from Universe A is closed, it doesn't apply to the same character in universe B, C or D).
  • The person bringing up the discussion again proves that there was evidence that was not brought up in the discussion before. If people don't use the Search Function to see if it was brought up, they get a warning to start with; repeated offenses result in suspension.
  • The character reappears.

This rule especially applies to the characters on the following list, which will be edited as needed and may include characters judged to be a CM or not to be a CM:


Special Cases

  • The Joker: Joker's status within DC's "canon" is very nebulous. In essence, his actions are canonized more than his personality is - for instance, The Killing Joke features Joker crippling Barbara Gordon, which has since been made canon, as well as having a redeeming backstory, which has been retconned out. As a result, while Joker may not count within individual arcs due to Depending on the Writer, he counts as a whole within DC's canon, and his actions within those arcs are included in his writeup.

Definitely a CM

  • Berserk: Griffith/Femto (He was selfish even before getting tortured, none of his crimes are treated as justified by said torture, and he has shown no indication that he can be redeemed, even himself admitting he feels no regret for anything. Any other interpretation relies on Alternative Character Interpretation, which isn't relevant to being a Complete Monster.)
  • The Bible: Haman the Agagite (Haman manages to surpass the high heinous standard, especially since God's actions are treated as benevolent)
  • Law Abiding Citizen: Clarence Darby (The vicious and despicable nature of both his short list of actions and his demeanor towards them makes his heinousness stand out in sharp contrast to Clyde Shelton's. Also, Darby's death at Clyde's hands, while brutal, is still karmic, as Darby raped Clyde's wife before murdering her and her child.)
  • Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater: Volgin (His "love" for Raikov is nothing but possessive desire, and does not disqualify him.)
  • Pan's Labyrinth: Captain Vidal (Handing over his son doesn't indicate care for his well-being, only his own legacy.)
  • Scream: Stu Macher (being one of the original Ghostfaces, the brutality of his kills compared to his partner Billy, and his participation in the torture/rape of Maureen Prescott all make him heinous enough despite his low kill count.)
  • Star Wars: General Grievous (he never shows any genuine care for his pet Gor, and roaring upon his death is only indicative of anger that he'd failed instead of sadness at his death).

Definitely not a CM