Follow TV Tropes


He Who Must Not Be Heard

Go To

"His enemies all fear him, you can barely hear him, invincible and inaudible - Sotto Voce!"

A character who never speaks, at least not in a way understandable by the audience. There are three variants:

  • The Voiceless: A character who can speak, but never or rarely does.
    • Its sub-variant The Silent Bob: A character who does not speak, but still expresses a lot.
  • The Speechless: Someone who does not speak onscreen because they cannot speak at all.
  • The Unintelligible: A character who speaks, but is for one reason or another unintelligible to the audience.

Note that this category includes those who do not speak understandably, or at all, as a Running Gag. But it does not include characters who have a legitimate reason not to speak (e.g., most babies, people in comas, mute).

This character may be a Silent Partner.

Compare with He Who Must Not Be Seen. Has nothing to do with He Who Must Not Be Named.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Sumiyoshi of Excel♡Saga never talks, but communicates solely by speech bubbles, in a Kansai/Geordie accent.
  • Subversion: No Face in Spirited Away usually fits this trope as he is typically only able to communicate in sighs, murmurs and gestures that often leave the other characters baffled as to what he's trying to tell them, but he does temporarily become able to talk halfway through the film.
  • Most Pokémon in Pokémon: The Series are restricted to speaking their own names, although the humans around them sometimes take a long time to cotton on to their intentions.
  • Most of the Angels in Neon Genesis Evangelion are completely silent, and it's unknown if they even have the capacity to speak. While one Angel does have a conversation with Rei (by assuming her form and voice within her mind), only Kaworu, the final Angel, ever actually talks.
  • Rise Matsumoto of YuruYuri is never audibly heard by anyone other than Nishigaki-sensei (and possibly Chitose), who will then comment on what she said, or say it to the other characters. Anytime she speaks, her mouth moves but nothing can be heard. One character says she can't hear what Rise is saying when watching the play that Rise is in and "speaking" in episode 12 of Season 2.

    Audio Plays 
  • The Protagonist in Yandere no Onna no Ko is never heard during any of the tracks. The girls always reiterate or imply what he's saying.
  • Yandere Heaven provides a female variety for the original series. Her/his dialogue is bounced back by the guys when she/he does speak.

    Comic Books 
  • Black Bolt, king of The Inhumans from the Marvel Universe, has a voice that destroys anything in its path, whether he wants it to or not. Because of this, he never speaks in the presence of allies (and even with enemies, usually only as a last resort). He's also been subjected to Power Creep, Power Seep. If he whispered, you'd be ripped to pieces. If he shouted, it'd be like a nuke. Maybe several of 'em. Hell, if he happens to whimper when hurt he makes the whole goddamn planet he's on tremble.
  • The torso from the 2000 AD strip Strontium Dog. He has no head and therefore no mouth, yet everyone seems to understand him just fine.
  • Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (Marvel) can't speak due to his throat being horribly damaged in a helicopter explosion, resulting in his vocal cords being severed.
  • "Pee-wee" from Harvey Comics' Richie Rich stories can understand everything said to him but never vocalises. His big brother "Freckles" always knows what his little brother wants to say and speaks for him.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • God in Dogma. Since God's voice is the voice of creation, living humans would die instantly if they ever heard her speak out loud (though saying "Beep" seems to be an exception). Handily, she has the Metatron around to pass on instructions to mortals.
  • Possibly subverted by Cotton from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. He's lost his tongue and the parrot talks for him. Of course, the parrot only uses nautical terms to do so, so someone has to interpret for the parrot. The lone exception is when, after passing the order down the line to "Watch the boat," the parrot passes the order to Cotton, who dejectedly realizes that not only is there no one else to pass it along to, he couldn't do so even if there was.
  • Zorro's manservant, usually named Bernardo, is mute in most versions. He often pretends to be deaf as well in order to gather intelligence for his master (who is able to understand him). In some Darker and Edgier versions, this is the result of his tongue having been cut out by the bad guys; in the 1990s TV remake - which featured a teenage version of this character named Felipe whom Don Diego had previously rescued from a battlefield - it was explained as psychosomatic. Naturally, the episode that explains this also includes Felipe's dramatic one-shot cry of 'Zorro!' just in time to alert Z to a bad guy behind him.
  • Harpo Marx. For a character who never speaks, he isn't especially quiet...
  • Mitch, the trainee from Waiting..., is a subversion. After several Preemptive Shut Ups and interruptions, he cracks and says everything that he wanted to say over the course of the day.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Maris, Niles' first wife on Frasier, never makes any vocal sounds onscreen despite being quite an influential character — all her offscreen dialogue is related to the viewer through discussions of it by other characters, including Repeating So the Audience Can Hear. She is also rarely seen in any way (except once as a silhouette, and once more in a brief glimpse of her completely covered in bandages in the hospital.)
  • The Creation King from Kamen Rider BLACK "speaks" using deep sounds that only his servants can understand. Luckily for us, those are interpreted for plot exposition.
  • The Micallef Program. Australian comedian Shaun Micallef had a skit where he was a Stylistic Suck Spaghetti Western hero called Sotto Voce who'd ride up to characters on his white horse, whisper his lines faintly, then ride off (or shoot them) while they were trying to work out what he'd just said.
  • Rowan Atkinson, as Mr. Bean, is based mostly on silent comedy, so he rarely speaks. Atkinson has also said that the voice hurts his throat.
  • Larry's brother Darryl and Larry's other brother Darryl in Newhart (though they do speak once in the final episode — ironically, only to bellow "QUIET!" at their chattering wives).
  • The Butler from The Prisoner (1967). Originally the role was going to be a speaking one, as a tall, erudite gentleman. However, Patrick McGoohan decided to be a little less on the nose and cast dwarf actor Angelo Muscat in the role, also making it silent in the process.
  • In an episode of Scrubs, the wife of an Episcopalian couple is never heard talking, and is at one point told by her husband to stop making a scene when she audibly exhales. Like most elements in Scrubs, this is taken to a deeper and more serious level when the husband explains to JD and Turk that he and his wife don't communicate or get along well outside of the bedroom, and now that is being threatened by his erectile dysfunction.
  • The Sooty Show: Sooty, in all his incarnations, never speaks as far as the audience can hear merely whispering his words into the ear of his human handler. His companion Sweep also has a restricted vocabulary, though in his case he does make a squeaking noise. In fact Sue, the female panda puppet, being the only one of the puppets that can speak...
  • Morn on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Of course, the rest of the cast jokes that you can never get him to shut up.
    • Morn laughs at a joke once, albeit in a muffled voice.
    • Also the Breen, allies of the Dominion and the Cardassians (who are also Faceless Goons as well), speak in unintelligible noise ... but all the characters around them, notably the Female Changeling, seem to understand them perfectly.
  • The Stig in the current format of Top Gear, also extended to The Stig's American cousin, The Stig's African cousin, and The Stig's lorry driving cousin. While they never speak on camera the presenters occasionally repeat comments that Stig(s) made off camera about the various cars he's given to drive.
  • Stan from Will & Grace, who also doubles as an unseen character, is never ever heard speaking, by the audience at least.

    Video Games 
  • Darth Nihilus of Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords "spoke" only in guttural whispers in a way that was utterly unintelligible to all but the characters of the game.
    • It actually sounds an awful lot like the sounds made by the metal spider-things in Lost in Space, the 1998 film.
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, three of the four Greybeards cannot speak even in a whisper, as their voices are powerful enough to cause earthquakes. Thus, Arngeir speaks for them.
    • The game draws attention to this in a rather awesome manner; if the player attempts to talk to one of them, they will greet him/her with a single whispered word, and the entire castle shakes as they say it.
  • The main character of Edna & Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes usually gets interrupted before she can get a word in. However, that doesn't stop other characters from guessing (with surprising accuracy) what she was going to say.
  • Saarebas, in the Dragon Age universe, are Qunari who are unfortunate enough to be born as mages. The cultural response to their existence appears to be sewing their lips together, so that they can't utter spells unless their assigned handler makes it possible. Thus, they almost never speak.
  • In Rhythm Heaven, Cam in Fever. While he does make an audible "Hmm!" sound in the beginning tutorial, he never says anything with a speech bubble. In comparison, his friends Marshall and Miss Ribbon speak much more.

    Web Animation 
  • Pom Pom in Homestar Runner cartoons. He bubbles. Also the Poopsmith, who's taken a vow of silence.
  • While most of the animal cast in Happy Tree Friends are unintelligible, Mole the blind mole, Cro-Marmot the marmot, and Mime the reindeer mime have never spoken a word in the entire series.


    Web Original 
  • Maine, from Red vs. Blue, is only capable of growling menacingly due to being shot in the throat. Even before that, he rarely spoke on screen.
  • Screech, at the Super Hero School Whateley Academy in the Whateley Universe, has the 'Black Bolt' problem. She's such a powerful siren that if she makes a sound, the objects or people in front of her mouth are likely to be incinerated. She's incredibly depressed over this.
  • Joel Deitrick of Survival of the Fittest: Evolution is notable for not speaking at all during his time on the island, his only lines of actual dialogue coming from flashbacks.
  • Darius in Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. J first meets him when she partners with him for an icebreaker at work. Neither she nor the audience can understand him. In another episode, at Fred's party, he is the DJ and tries to start everyone singing "Happy Birthday" but nobody can hear him so everybody is off.

    Western Animation 
  • In the more recent Marvel Shared Universe cartoons, Black Bolt speaks one word per appearance. It is always the most insanely powerful move the cast has - and it's always a whisper. (This includes an adaptation of the same storyline once adapted by the 90s Fantastic Four series. This time, bringing down the barrier doesn't destroy the whole city.)
    • On one occasion, Ultron's plan to end the world was to subject Black Bolt to Cold-Blooded Torture until he made the slightest groan, which would be broadcasted worldwide. (And here Assemble was supposed to be Lighter and Softer than EMH.) In the battle, the Avengers managed to stop Ultron's machine and the only one in front of Black Bolt when the torture devices finally got a sound out of him was Ultron himself. The previously totally invincible villain who'd dogged the Avengers for several seasons was instantly torn to shreds by the small groan Black Bolt was doing everything to restrain.
  • The Snorch in Aaahh!!! Real Monsters never speaks, only making grunt sounds with Zimbo acting as his voice box. Subverted in one episode where The Snorch did have a voice and spoke very fluently.
  • Solomon Grundy only speaks in unintelligible grunts in Batman: The Brave and the Bold, mostly due to his mouth being stapled shut.
  • In Fantastic Four: The Animated Series, Black Bolt communicates in sign language because a whisper can kill. When his brother imprisons the Inhumans in a "Negative Energy Barrier", the only thing that can break the barrier is Black Bolt choosing to send all the people into underground bunkers and then speak. All of the city above ground was utterly destroyed, but so was the barrier. (It was necessary because the air was getting thin, and all other attempts to bring down the barrier failed.)
  • Boomhauer's father from King of the Hill never speaks on screen, on at least one occasion he had just finished a conversation and Hank and the others complement how intelligent he is.
  • Mr. Funny from The Mr. Men Show is the only character that does not talk, but only communicates by doing miming acts like Harpo Marx, imitates other, and honks at times during the show.
  • Miss Othmar and the other adults in the Peanuts specials are unintelligible to the audience, with their speech coming out (to us) as "wonk-wonk-wonk." The kids, however, can understand them - though since the kids only speak English, this leads to awkward moments of the kids repeating what has just been said to them by way of translation.
  • Grubber of the Gang Green Gang in The Powerpuff Girls (1998) only communicates by blowing raspberries, although he is very adept at imitating other characters' voices.
  • One of the Sheep in the Big City shorts showcased a ridiculous example of this: The Inaudible Man. A thief/villain who managed to steal Queen Elizabeth's necklace and kidnap the segment's presenter in the middle of the day and recording... and no one heard anything.
  • On The Simpsons, Maggie normally doesn't speak simply because she's a baby. But even in the future in the episode "Lisa's Wedding", she's never able to say a word without being interrupted - and all the while, a number of other characters complain that she never shuts up. In other episodes set in the future, she's often conveniently somewhere else for the duration of the episode in order to avoid having to answer the question of what Maggie will actually sound like. One Christmas episode does feature her as an adult and a rockstar famed for her magnificent voice. Unfortunately, due to a poorly explained pregnancy complication, she is medically forbidden from speaking until the baby is born. At which point she's back to being interrupted before actually saying anything.
    • Subverted only once, at the conclusion of a flashback episode which reveals that Lisa's first word was "Bart." After Homer puts Maggie to bed, she removes her pacifier and speaks her first word with no one around to hear it. That first word? "Daddy."
  • Kenny McCormick from South Park mumbles through his parka, though there are a few rare occasions when he speaks without it (such as at the end of The Movie).
    • Kenny's voice is sometimes barely intelligible. Also, everyone else understands him perfectly, so sometimes you can figure out exactly what he's saying from the context and cadence. If you pay close enough attention, it becomes clear that Kenny can say words that would get bleeped if anyone else spoke them.
    • When Kenny's in his superhero guise of Mysterion, he's perfectly intelligible (and sounds rather like the Christian Bale version of Batman).
  • A running joke in The Spectacular Spider-Man involved the character Hobie Brown (the future vigilante Prowler) being interrupted whenever he was about to speak. He finally speaks in the series' penultimate episode.
  • Steven Universe: When Pink Diamond began appearing in flashbacks in season 5, it was a long while before she was heard to actually speak. For instance, her first appearance in "Jungle Moon" is in a dream where her role is played by Stevonnie. This turns out to be because her having the same voice as Rose Quartz would be a dead giveaway that they are and always were the same person.
  • Tom and Jerry are, for the most part, entirely voiceless (though "Spike the bulldog" does talk at times).
    • Well, if you don't count when Jerry does something particularly painful to Tom and he howls in pain.
  • Underdog: Ruffled Feather of The Go-Go Gophers always emitted sputters and sound effect verbal tics whenever he had an idea. His partner, Running Board, would translate it.
  • Wallace & Gromit: Gromit!
  • Leonoardo from the "Clyde Crashcup" shorts of the original The Alvin Show would only talk by whispering in people's ears, but was inaudible to the audience.
    • He did speak once, when he was angry at Clyde, but in an unintelligible whimper; it still wasn't very loud.
  • Wile E Coyote And The Roadrunner never talk.
    • At least not to each other. When the Coyote met Bugs Bunny it was another story; "Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius."
  • Shimmer never speaks in Young Justice. She's a bit of a Butt-Monkey, so a Running Gag is that she usually ends up knocked out by the heroes before she even has a chance to open her mouth.
    • Also true for a lot of heroes and villains due to the show having tons of characters. Most of the members of the JLA and Injustice League still have yet to speak, for instance.